Fearless and Free: CELEBRATING THE FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

By Cole, Bruce | Humanities, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

Fearless and Free: CELEBRATING THE FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES


Cole, Bruce, Humanities


This September the NEH celebrates its fortieth anniversary. To mark the occasion, the Endowment is printing in book form excerpts of the conversations that Chairman Bruce Cole has conducted in HUMANITIES about the nature of the humanities, from history to the heroics of boxers. The following is taken from the introduction to the book, FEARLESS AND FREE.

THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FORTHE HUMANITIES MARKS its fortieth anniversary this year with a look not just at our history but at the challenges of today and tomorrow. Eighteen thoughtful and fascinating people-among them an historian, a poet, a university professor, a classicist, a critic, a cabinet secretary, an antiques dealer, and a chef speak to the breadth and vitality of the humanities in this difficult, dangerous era.

The NEH was founded in the belief that cultivating the best of the humanities has tangible benefits for civic life. The words of our founding legislation say that "democracy demands wisdom and vision." Government of, by, and for the people needs educated and thoughtful citizens.

Today we find ourselves in a conflict driven by religion, philosophy, political ideology, and competing views of history all humanities subjects. Without a continually deeper knowledge of each, we would have no bearings, no sense of how the past informs the present, no experience imagining worlds other than our own.

From Homer through Beowulf and beyond, people learned their heritage and history through story and song, and they passed those stories and songs to the next generation.

Great civilizations all cultivate memory, in Abraham Lincoln's words the "mystic chords of memory, stretching from battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land."

For four decades, the Endowment has enhanced Americans' awareness of their own culture and history and other peoples' as well. With NEH support, teams of scholars have created monographs such as The Cambridge History of China, the Encyclopedia of Islam, and The Oxford History of the British Empire. More than one thousand translations have made key cultural texts available to English-language readers, helping them understand historical, philosophical, and religious developments in other parts of the world. And editions of great texts of scientific thought, including works by Darwin and Galileo and Newton, have enabled students to explore how scientists approached perplexing questions of the universe.

During the past forty years, NEH fellowships have been the single largest supporter of scholarly research in the United States, making possible thousands of publications and presentations.

NEH funds have also helped rescue the raw materials of culture on which this research is based. One million brittle books and seventy million pages of decaying newspapers are now on microfilm, thanks to the Endowment's help. But preservation is only part of the story. The NEH has also made these materials accessible to a larger audience, funding hundreds of museum exhibitions, library displays, films, and Web sites.

In partnership with the fifty-six state and territorial councils, the Endowment has carried American audiences from Tutankhamen in ancient Egypt through the time of the Medicis and on to the present. The cultural encounters may take place under a Chautauqua tent, around the table of a neighborhood book dub, or over the airwaves of local radio. …

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